IMF proposal on cutbacks 'only advice'
THE MINISTER for Finance has said the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation that child benefit be means-tested and the cost of medical cards be cut was only advice and did not constitute new conditions to be applied in the EU-IMF bailout programme.
Michael Noonan said the proposals were made independently of decisions to be taken by the Government from September on changes to be introduced in the December budget.
The IMF proposals to means-test child benefit and cut the cost of medical cards also received a cool reception from Minister of State Kathleen Lynch yesterday.
“They make recommendations all of the time,” she said. “They’ve made them before, they’ve been making them for the last three years. We don’t necessarily take them on board. We are convinced that vulnerable people in the community need to be protected.”
Asked if she believed Fine Gael would share that view at budget time, Ms Lynch (Labour) said: “Fine Gael are as concerned about our vulnerable community as we are.”
Academics and groups representing women and families said it was important that child benefit remained a universal payment.
Orla O’Connor, acting chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the fact that the payment was made to all mothers meant it recognised the care work done by all these women, regardless of class.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul said it could only countenance changes to child benefit in the context of clear proposals on how supports to low- and middle-income families would be provided to protect them from poverty and social exclusion.
The Family Resource Centre National Forum said a means test was a “very blunt instrument”, adding that a more progressive and targeted approach would be the application of taxation.
“This way, the universality of the payment would remain intact; however, those most in need of the payment – including unemployed people and low-paid families – would still continue to receive it.”
One Family, which supports lone parents, said a portion of the child benefit should remain universal, with the remainder means-tested. Stuart Duffin, manager of the charity’s welfare-to-work section, said the Government must guarantee that families who depended on the support would not lose out.
Meanwhile, Age Action has described the call for cuts to non-means-tested pensions, further means-testing of the over-70s medical card and means testing of the household benefits package as an “unprecedented attack on older people”.
Spokesman Eamon Timmins said that, were the Government to adopt some of the IMF’s proposals, they would seriously undermine key supports that many older people needed to live with dignity. He added that it was unclear why means-testing over-70s medical cards had been mooted by the IMF when it was introduced in 2008.
“Age Action wondered if the IMF was suggesting that the Government revisit this contentious issue to review the income limits which were set following major protests in 2008,” Mr Timmins said. “The issues which brought thousands of pensioners out on the streets in 2008 remain unchanged.”